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Looking backward from year 2015
By Lee Penn

 

The Great Realignment of 2004-2012:

The Catholic Church Splits, The Episcopal Church Triumphs

 

November 1, 2015

All Saints’ Day (Roman Catholic calendar)

All Peoples’ Day/Samhain (Episcopalian calendar)

 

In the fall of 2000 many observers had consigned the Episcopal Church in the U.S. (ECUSA) to the dust-bin of history. ECUSA’s General Convention — the highest decision-making authority for the denomination — had officially recognized ‘life-long committed relationships’ outside of marriage, and had voted to send teams of enforcers to the three ECUSA dioceses that still refused to ordain women. In response, dozens of Anglo-Catholic and Evangelical parishes defected, seeking oversight from conservative Anglican provinces overseas. There were threats that Anglican primates worldwide would expel ECUSA from the Anglican Communion for apostasy. At the time, the General Convention resolution calling for a doubling of ECUSA membership by 2020 seemed to be sheer fantasy.

 

We now know that ECUSA was on the verge of its greatest period of growth, influence, power, and wealth. Events within and outside the Anglican Communion have again made ECUSA the pre-eminent church of the American establishment and intelligentsia, as it had been in the nation’s early history. With its partner, the newly formed American Catholic Church (discussed later), ECUSA is now the spiritual spokesman for Americans who reject fundamentalism, pursue spiritual growth, and uphold ‘Unity in Diversity.’

 

Two Perils Averted

 

Before ECUSA could move to the center of the national stage, it had to overcome two threats to its survival.

 

The first peril was the threat of discipline from overseas conservative primates. This never occurred.

 

The ruling Archbishop of Canterbury at the time, George Carey, prized ecclesiastical unity above all else. He was acutely aware that ECUSA was — by far — the wealthiest Church in the Anglican Communion. Though the Church of England was the mainstay of the Communion, the international Anglican bureaucracy depended on American dollars, as did the impoverished provinces in the Third World. As Carey told the Church Club of New York in September 2000, ‘Let me say without hesitation that your church has been an enormous support to the work [of] our Communion. It has assisted me in my leadership, and has enabled the structures of our communion to bring cohesion and solidarity with our brothers and sisters around the globe.’ Thus, Carey used his considerable diplomatic skills to great effect in the last years of his reign to get American and overseas primates to pull back from any actions that would have created a formal, declared schism in the Communion. As Carey told the Church Club in 2000, ‘We all have views. But in advancing our individual perspectives, we must also protect the fundamental integrity of our Communion. Where disagreement persists, we must treat each other with integrity and support.’ Since ECUSA never actually voted to repudiate the Scriptures, the Creeds, the Lambeth Quadrilateral, or the Thirty-Nine Articles, ECUSA never crossed the line into apostasy.

 

The ‘line in the sand’ issue for Anglican conservatives was ‘gay marriage.’ ECUSA was nimble and discreet in handling this hot potato. By 2000, 60 ECUSA dioceses already allowed this practice — 57 percent of the total. This number gradually increased — to 70 dioceses by the 2003 General Convention, 85 dioceses by 2006, and 95 by 2009. Nevertheless, no rite for ‘gay unions’ has ever been added to the approved liturgies for the national Church; the matter is left to the option of each bishop. Nor is there any discussion — even among progressives — of making the acceptance of ‘gay unions’ mandatory everywhere. ‘Gay’ lobbyists from Integrity and the Episcopal Women’s Caucus saw the wisdom of a measured policy, after they and the ECUSA national leadership got a scare in the fall of 2000 from the formation of the Anglican Mission in America (AMIA), and from the risk that overseas primates would recognize it as a lawful Anglican body in the U.S. We now know that Anglican primates overseas can live with radical innovation in the U.S., as long as it is not a formal part of national ECUSA policy. The old aphorism still holds: ‘Just don’t do it in the middle of the road and scare the horses.’

 

ECUSA national and diocesan leaders, from the current Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Kaeton on down, have understood that ECUSA needs the credibility that comes with membership in a worldwide denomination and from association with the martyr-Christians of the Third World. They also know that the Third World desperately needs American money and organizational skills. Therefore, ECUSA national and diocesan leaders have greatly increased their donations to overseas Anglican churches — regardless of whether those Anglicans are critics of the innovations in ECUSA. Political pragmatism and residual 1960s sympathy for the Third World overcame the desire of America’s progressive Anglicans to take ‘prophetic action’ against the ‘unenlightened’ beliefs of African and Asian Anglicans. Almost all the Third World primates have accepted the donations; financial need overcame their reluctance to accept what some Africans called ‘America’s pieces of silver.’

 

In addition, the firm conservative bloc that dominated the African and Asian provinces of the Anglican Communion in 2000 began to fracture by 2012. One reason was the spread of industrial development and prosperity to the middle classes in the Third World, assisted by the global free-trade pacts of 2003 and 2009. As had happened decades earlier in the Western nations, prosperity was an effective antidote to ‘fundamentalism.’ With middle-class prosperity came the spread of American culture and mores throughout the world — and overseas Anglicans were not exempt from these temptations. Additionally, ECUSA was open-handed in offering scholarships and post-ordination studies in American seminaries to Third World priests and lay leaders. This had the predictable (and intended) effects on the beliefs of many of the students.

 

Just as ECUSA circumvented banishment from the Anglican Communion, it also avoided a major schism from American conservatives. ECUSA liberals discovered the practical value of tolerance and patience, and acted accordingly. As a result, most ECUSA conservatives gave up their collective fight, and departed quietly, one by one.

 

In an act of forbearance that could not have been foreseen after the disastrous Denver Convention of 2000, no ‘task forces’ were ever sent from the national Church to the three Anglo-Catholic dioceses that refused to ordain women. Frank Griswold, then the Presiding Bishop of ECUSA, paid attention when the three recusant dioceses said that they would stay until — or unless — they were thrown out. Griswold lectured the hard-line ECUSA feminists on ‘holy patience,’ ‘pluriform truth,’ and ‘living our contradictions’ until they saw the prudence of a go-slow approach. The three dioceses were left in peace. Women from these dioceses who sought ordination received relocation assistance, full seminary scholarships, and guaranteed job-placement elsewhere in the country, courtesy of the Presiding Bishop.

 

Meanwhile, the bishops of these three Anglo-Catholic dioceses retired one by one. All were gone by 2013, replaced by Evangelicals who ordain women, use the 1979 Book of Common Prayer without any ‘inclusive language’ changes, and resolutely oppose ‘gay marriage’ and practicing homosexual clergy. As such, the Evangelical bishops are conservative enough to keep these historically Anglo-Catholic dioceses within ECUSA.

 

Since 2009, ten dioceses — the three Anglo-Catholic dioceses, and seven Evangelical dioceses — have stoutly maintained opposition to ‘gay unions’ and ordination of practicing homosexual ministers. ECUSA conservatives hail these bishops as the ‘Ten Righteous Men,’ and affirm that — even as God would have spared Sodom if He found ten good men there (Gen. 18:32) — so also will He spare ECUSA from judgment for the sake of the Ten. For the ten dioceses, opposition to abortion, homosexuality, and neo-paganism are the hallmarks of orthodoxy. (The issues of artificial contraception, remarriage after divorce, and female clergy are barely controversial anymore.)

 

ECUSA has amply accommodated its older members who love the 1928 Book of Common Prayer. The first policy change came in 2000 when the General Convention issued an apology to those who had been offended by the suppression of the old rites in the 1970s, and decided to allow ‘occasional use under the ecclesiastical authority’ of the old book. In 2003, the General Convention offered traditional Morning Prayer services as an option for every day of the two-week conclave, and voted to allow any priest to use rites from the 1928 Book of Common Prayer at any time. When ECUSA released its new ‘Resources for Common Prayer’ in 2012, the CD-ROM included all the classic Anglican rites — the prayer books of 1549, 1662, and 1928, as well as the Anglican Missal. Anyone could use any of these services as he wished — ‘as is’ or hybridized with newer liturgies. This satisfied all who had a sentimental or esthetic preference for classical Anglican liturgy. By 2014 the Prayer Book Society, devoted to the preservation of the 1928 and other Cranmerian-model Books of Common Prayer, had declared ‘victory’ and disbanded. Since the 1979 Book of Common Prayer was also on the Common Prayer CD-ROM — in full, and unchanged from its original form — those who liked the ECUSA religious style of the 1970s and 1980s were also pleased. No need ever arose for creating a Society for the Preservation of the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

 

Only 10 percent of Episcopalians reject the radicalized liturgies that are now the norm in ECUSA. However, these conservatives are free to worship as they choose; in the view of the ECUSA hierarchy, the ‘old truth’ is valid for the conservatives, and the ‘new truth’ — and the corresponding liturgies — is valid for everyone else. The ECUSA hierarchy feels secure in its control of the Church, and no longer fears concerted opposition from those who adhere to the traditional Anglicanism expressed by the old rituals. The remaining ECUSA conservatives understand that they can have their staid, comfortable parishes — as long as they don’t publicly criticize what occurs in other parishes or what is done by the ECUSA hierarchy.

 

These concessions from the liberal majority in ECUSA, coupled with the absence of decisive, unified support from overseas primates, deprived ECUSA conservatives of a clear cause for battle and caused organized opposition to fizzle. The Anglican Mission in America (AMIA), founded in 2000 by two American bishops consecrated by the Provinces of Singapore and Rwanda as missionaries to the U.S., began accepting deaconesses and priestesses by the fall of that year. Therefore, few Anglo-Catholics actively supported that movement. Additionally, the more theologically-minded Anglo-Catholics criticized Evangelicals for accepting remarriage after divorce — a 1970s innovation in ECUSA. The Anglo-Catholics claimed that the culture of divorce undermined family stability, and that priestesses produced gender confusion, thus paving the way for the ‘gay revolution.’ In turn, some partisans of AMIA excoriated Anglo-Catholics for insisting on ‘arcane theological points’ (as the Evangelicals put it), although Evangelicals were strongly opposed to the acceptance of homosexuality in ECUSA. By September 2000 exasperated Evangelicals began to dust off terms of abuse such as ‘idolatry,’ ‘blasphemy,’ and ‘mariolatry’ in their online debates with Anglo-Catholics. In the end, AMIA became a small Evangelical ‘continuing church,’ and its bishops were recognized by only one-quarter of the Anglican provinces worldwide, but not by the Church of England and ECUSA.

 

Evangelicals were unable to make common cause with Anglo-Catholics, and so many Evangelicals in ECUSA decided to throw in the towel, and left for the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, the Southern Baptists, ‘Spirit-filled’ charismatic churches, or other Evangelical bodies.

 

Most Anglo-Catholics saw the writing on the wall and slowly left ECUSA for friendlier territory. Most became Roman Catholic or Eastern Orthodox. Some — still attached to an Anglican ethos — sought refuge in one or another of the Anglican ‘continuing churches,’ which had been formed in the 1970s after ECUSA began ordaining women. Now only a few die-hards remain as members of Forward in Faith/North America, which had been the leading Anglo-Catholic lobby in ECUSA in the final decade of the past century. By 2014 virtually the only Anglo-Catholics left in ECUSA were yuppies and aesthetes, those who loved ‘smells and bells’ and liturgical theater with a retro flair. With the liturgical smorgasbord of the 2012 Common Prayer CD-ROM, they got everything they could want.

 

These events — in and of themselves — would have sufficed to keep ECUSA alive, with little growth in membership from its official count of 2.4 million in 2000. The enormous growth in ECUSA — now seven million members, as compared to the 2000 Denver Convention goal of 4.8 million by 2020 — arose primarily from the Great Realignment of 2004-2012. If current trends hold, ECUSA (and its ecumenical partners) will have more than 10 million members by 2020.

 

The Great Realignment

 

The trigger event for the Realignment was the unexpected election of Benedict XVI* to the papacy in late 2002, after the death of Bl. John Paul the Theologian. Pope Benedict, a young African priest-monk, had been unexpectedly raised to the College of Cardinals in John Paul II’s final — and unexpected — consistory in mid-2001, and quickly became known as one of the few princes of the Church who combined administrative acumen with holiness of life, greatness as a preacher, and compassion for the poor.

 

Soon after assuming office, Pope Benedict dealt aggressively with those who had promoted theological uncertainty in the Roman Catholic Church in the name of the ‘spirit of Vatican II.’ Forty orders of nuns and 20 orders of brothers (which, as a group, had been engrossed in sodomy, radical feminism, liberation theology, or New Age syncretism) were suppressed. The majority of the members of the Catholic Theological Society of America were — by papal order — denied licenses to teach at Catholic universities. American bishops began excommunicating pro-abortion Catholic politicians, and disciplined professed Catholics in the media who produced pornographic fare. The Church severed ties with three large Catholic publishing houses that offered a plethora of books by dissenting authors. The Pope negotiated an agreement with the Society of St. Pius X, a Traditionalist group that had gone into schism in 1988. With the healing of the Lefebvrite schism and a more sympathetic attitude throughout the hierarchy, the pre-Vatican II rites became available to all who sought them. With the abolition of the International Commission on English in the Liturgy and its replacement by a different breed of Latin translators in the Vatican, the Catholic faithful in the U.S. and England were able to use reverent and elegant translations of the post-Vatican II liturgies and prayers of the Church.

 

All of these events filled Catholic liberals with rage, then despair. They had held on through the seemingly interminable pontificate of John Paul II — and then their hopes for a liberal Pope were brutally dashed. For liberal Catholics in the U.S., the final straw came in early 2005, when Fabian Cardinal Bruskewitz of Washington, D.C., placed Georgetown University under interdict, and stripped it of its title as a Catholic school after its board allowed a Planned Parenthood clinic to open on campus.

 

Late in 2005 Catholic liberals in the U.S. — led by 36 bishops, one cardinal, numerous theologians, 94 religious orders, and the presidents and trustees of 31 nominally Catholic institutions of higher learning — declared independence from Rome. They created the American Catholic Church (ACC), declared autonomy, and elected their cardinal to head their Church. The secessionists accused Pope Benedict of integralism and of violating Canon Law, subsidiarity, collegiality, and the spirit of Vatican II.

 

The ACC quickly acquired six million members, sympathy from the mainstream media and political liberals, and a great deal of money. Additionally, about four million liberal Catholics switched directly into ECUSA; once they felt free to leave communion with Rome, they wanted to distance themselves as much as they could from the ‘oppressive’ Church. All told, about 10 million Catholics — one-sixth of the total in the U.S. — split from the Holy See. Equally severe schisms occurred in other English-speaking countries and in western Europe; very few Catholics from Third World countries joined. (The Roman Catholics have recovered their membership losses in the last decade; the new unity within their Church allowed for effective evangelization.)

 

The principal Anglo-Catholic organization in ECUSA (and in the Church of England) is ‘Affirming Catholicism,’ which was formed in the 1990s to promote spirituality, Catholic-style liturgy, social justice, women priests, and ‘gay rights.’ In the U.S. one of the movement’s principal sponsors was Frank Griswold, the Presiding Bishop in 2000; it still has enthusiastic support from the highest authorities in the national Church. As early as 2000, the ‘Affirming Catholic’ Anglicans avowed solidarity with We Are Church — ‘a Roman Catholic movement whose aims are similar to ours,’ said an ‘Affirming Catholic’ Anglican at that time.

 

Recent Gallup polls show the following — roughly identical — demographics for ECUSA and the American Catholic Church:

 

  • 20% age 75 and over.

  • 25% homosexual, bisexual, or transgendered.

  • 35% divorced heterosexuals who cannot remarry under Catholic or Orthodox canons; most have remarried, or are ‘partnered.’

  • 10% young heterosexual ‘swinging singles.’

  • 10% young and middle-aged married couples, half of whom have children.

    ECUSA members are wealthy, well-educated beneficiaries of the Information Revolution. Many eminent artists, academics, and media executives are now members. These recruits, who have made ECUSA the defining voice for spirituality in America, have been attracted by the expansive spiritual liberty offered by ECUSA. They can get all the diverse ‘spiritual practices’ they want, with no Catholic or Evangelical guilt.

     

    Polls show that the belief systems of today’s ECUSA members are:

     

  • 25% Wiccan and neo-pagan.

  • 15% pantheist (or, to use a term coined by Matthew Fox, ‘panentheist’).

  • 50% ‘Affirming Catholic.’

  • 7% Evangelical.

  • 3% Anglo-Catholic.

    For members of the American Catholic Church (ACC), the findings are similar.

     

    Since there has been no reason in principle for ECUSA and the American Catholic Church to remain separate — and great marketing and financial gain were they to join forces — the two denominations declared full intercommunion and sharing of ministers in 2007. Since then they have shared worship space, funding, and seminaries. In practice, the two Churches are now one. Complete merger is expected by 2020.

     

    Other candidates for the pending ecclesiastical merger of 2020 include the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America — which had entered into a concordat with ECUSA in 2000, and the All-American Orthodox Church — formed in 2006 as a multi-ethnic breakaway from Eastern Orthodoxy which sought women priests, acceptance of sexual liberation, shorter services, and more lenient fasting rules. Other denominations — including many of the mainline Protestant churches — are also likely to join; the 1960s dream of the Consultation on Church Union is being realized. All are welcome if they are liturgically oriented, pro-feminist, pro-homosexual, and free of ‘fundamentalist’ leadership. Some uncharitable wags have already devised an acronym for this liberal Church of the future — CLOACA (the Catholic/Lutheran/Orthodox/Anglican Church of America).

     

    But as the liberals are moving toward unity, so are the orthodox Christians.

     

    After 2005 Pope Benedict led a reform of the Eastern Catholic Churches. These reforms — including a new Code of Canon Law that was fully consistent with Eastern Orthodox practice and tradition — were intended to show Eastern Orthodox that their practices, beliefs, and customs would be secure if they entered communion with the Holy See. The Pope, in conjunction with Eastern Catholic Patriarchs, delineated the functions and authority of Pope and Patriarch — to pave the way for the long-desired reunion with the Christian East. He dealt with the controversial ‘filioque’ clause in the Creed in a way acceptable to Eastern Catholics and the Eastern Orthodox, and accepted the Orthodox date for the Feast of the Resurrection. (Throughout the West, the term ‘Pascha’ has been universally accepted as the name for the Great Feast; ‘Easter,’ with its origins in the name of a goddess, is rarely used now.) At first the Eastern Orthodox were suspicious of these initiatives, believing that they were nothing more than a Vatican/Uniate trick. As Eastern Orthodox clergy and laity see that the reforms have returned Eastern Catholics to Orthodox structure and practice, their interest in reunion is increasing. Dialogue is ongoing, and may bear tangible fruit by 2030.

     

    Orthodox Protestants — conservative Calvinists and Lutherans, Evangelicals, and charismatics — have taken alarm at the increasingly pagan culture of North America and western Europe. Leaders of these churches met in Germany in 2009, and issued the New Barmen Confession, stating that the rise of the New Paganism demanded unity among the churches descendent from the Reformation, and calling on their members not to co-operate with anti-Christian laws in the U.S. and the European Union.

     

    Increased harassment of traditional Christians in America and western Europe has spurred practical collaboration among Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, and orthodox Protestants. This co-operation — which began in the past century with the prolife movement and now includes concerted opposition to eugenics and ‘hate speech’ laws — is giving a practical basis to ecumenism among orthodox Christians.

     

    Theological and Liturgical Upheaval

     

    The influx of Catholic liberals into ECUSA, and the exodus of Anglo-Catholics and Evangelicals, has opened the way for unfettered liturgical and theological experimentation in ECUSA, with ECUSA’s allies in the American Catholic Church in full support.

     

    The Common Prayer CD-ROM of 2012 has offered a starting-point for liturgical evolution. Dioceses and parishes can adapt the standard prayers and hymns to fit the pastoral needs of their own people, allowing local development of new rites for ‘committed unions’ — including special services for Wiccans, ‘consensual, safe-and-sane’ sadomasochists, and practitioners of lifelong, caring ‘polyfidelity’ and ‘polyamory.’

     

    By 2000 liberal Catholic feminists had written a ‘Liturgy for Seeking Wisdom’ to assist women facing the abortion decision, and a post-procedure ‘Liturgy of Affirmation.’ These services quickly became popular in ECUSA. As for the first-mentioned liturgy, a celebrant in ‘flyover country’ invokes ‘Gracious and loving Holy Wisdom’ to bless the abortion. In California and New York, an invocation of Artemis, goddess of the hunt, is often included —as suggested in Ginette Paris’s path-breaking 1992 book The Sacrament of Abortion. Since the gods Yemanja, Ra, Ausar, and Obatala were being invoked at Eucharistic services at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine as early as 1993, those who invoke Artemis to bless abortions were able to claim authoritative ECUSA precedent. Now services like these are common in ECUSA and the American Catholic Church.

     

    Early this century, Anglicans took the lead in re-integrating sexual fantasy with holistic, body-accepting, self-affirming spiritual practices. Bishop John Spong wrote a monthly spiritual column from 2000 to 2007 for ThePosition.com, an on-line sex magazine. In August 2000 a liberal ECUSA rector in California told Penthouse magazine, ‘I want to put in a good word for pornography.’ By 2007 it was common for new seminarians and postulants in religious orders to attend three-day ‘Spiritualizing the Body Electric’ workshops in erotica, Tantric spirituality, and Shiatsu massage as part of their core curriculum. Some seminaries had been showing X-rated films in class to students as early as the 1980s, and this was merely the full development of a long-standing practice. The stated goal of this ‘plunge therapy’ is to get those called to church work to accept their bodies and overcome internalized erotophobia, in order to minister compassionately to their sexually diverse congregations.

     

    In 2000 a university professor and an Anglican priestess wrote Naturism and Christianity, calling upon Christians to accept nudism. Bishop Matthew Fox, the successor to Bishop William Swing of the ECUSA Diocese of California, wrote a groundbreaking spiritual work just before he retired in 2012, Completing the Great Work of Unity: The Marriage of Gaia and the Cosmic Christ. This book, a national best-seller since its publication, has prompted a re-examination of tantric yoga and fertility rites in the post-modern, post-patriarchal, post-Puritan world. Fox’s radical devotees believe that nudity and sex acts are integral to indigenous religions worldwide, and that opposing these practices is a vestige of racism, colonialism, and Augustinian ‘fall/redemption’ spirituality. Arguments from both books were cited in a majority Supreme Court decision of 2013, overturning legal restrictions on nudity and consensual sex when engaged in by adults during a religious service at a tax-exempt church.

     

    Also in 2000 the renowned ecumenist Huston Smith, author of The World’s Religions, had published Cleansing the Doors of Perception: The Religious Significance of Entheogenic Plants & Chemicals, arguing that drug use in religious rites can bring people closer to God. His work, in conjunction with the burgeoning movements against a ‘zero tolerance’ drug policy and for the revival of indigenous religious practices, laid the groundwork for the pro-entheogen Supreme Court decision of 2013. Now any IRS-approved religion can legally incorporate entheogens into its religious ceremonies for consumption by its 18-and-over members. With the acceptance of Native American religions in ECUSA, it is now possible to use peyote in liturgies; with Hindu tantric practices now established in the West, the soma plant from South Asia can now be used. Local dioceses — most notably in California, New York, and Washington, D.C. — have prepared new liturgies that take advantage of these re-discovered ways to connect to the Divine Within, Above, and Below Us All.

     

    The new Church Calendar for ECUSA and the American Catholic Church (ACC) includes the solstices and equinoxes, several Hindu and Buddhist holidays, and a high feast on June 26, the anniversary of the establishment of the United Nations (in 1945) and of the United Religions (in 2000). In many parishes the June 26 high feast coincides with the celebration of our national Queer Pride Day on the last Sunday of June. The popular name for this combined feast is the Celebration of Unity in Diversity. (Since 2005 it has been generally understood that ‘Queer Pride’ is for all those who have been sexually marginalized in the imperialist, racist culture of European Christianity — homosexual men, lesbians, bisexuals, transsexuals, practitioners of ‘Sex/Magick’ and ‘power exchange,’ those innately attracted to multiple partners, and those who are uncertain of their sexual identity.) Some parishes combine Christmas with Winter Solstice, and have moved Easter to coincide with the Spring Equinox. All these innovations were needed for the pastoral care of the diverse seeker-members of ECUSA and ACC.

     

    The updated ECUSA and ACC ‘Calendar of the Saints’ includes those honored in 2000 by a progressive ECUSA parish in California: Harvey Milk (the ‘gay’ politician assassinated in San Francisco in 1978), Matthew Shepard (a ‘gay’ ECUSA college student murdered in 1998), Martin Luther King Jr., Eleanor Roosevelt, Walt Whitman, Edward (King of England), and ‘the martyrs of the Burning Times’ (those accused of witchcraft and burned at the stake, totaling by some counts up to 9 million martyrs). Parishes devoted to liberation theology now honor as saints Ho Chi Minh, Fidel Castro, and Karl Marx.

     

    ECUSA has reopened the canon of Scripture, as had been suggested by authors from the Jesus Seminar in the 1990s. By vote of the General Convention of 2012, the gnostic Gospel of Thomas — often praised as ‘the fifth and greatest gospel’ and ‘hidden Ageless Wisdom’ — can now be read during services, at the discretion of the presider.

    In August 2000 a Church of England priest urged Anglican parishes to hold ‘Christian séances’ to communicate with those ‘who have passed over to the other side,’ and to encourage parishioners to develop ‘psychic skills.’ This proved to be an idea whose time had come, in ECUSA as well as in the Church of England. The current revival of traditional Theosophy (à la Blavatsky) — with the associated phenomena of spirit channeling and automatic writing — dates from this event.

     

    In 2000 liberal ECUSA liturgists proposed to address the Trinity as ‘Divine Parent, Only Begotten, and Holy Spirit.’ By 2005 this became part of the most popular Eucharistic service in ECUSA, the new Rite IV, accepted at the Minneapolis General Convention of 2003. By 2007 progressive ECUSA congregations went further in re-imaging God, and addressed the Trinity as ‘Divine Parent, Liberator, and Sophia, Bearer of Light and Wisdom.’ By 2010 the most advanced thinkers were praying to ‘The Bringer of Light, the Divine Human, and the Eternal Serpent of Wisdom.’ This most recent invocation remains controversial among the conservative element in ECUSA. These changes have been causing some ecumenical embarrassment; many other denominations insist on re-baptizing converts from ECUSA who have been initiated with these unusual Trinitarian formulas.

     

    New Seminaries for a New Age

     

    ECUSA seminaries have reformed their curricula to meet the needs of the people of the New Millennium. In most seminaries there are still classes in patristics, Gregorian chant and iconography, but they are optional.

     

    By 2000 the Graduate Theological Union, a consortium of mostly liberal seminaries in Berkeley, California, was offering classes that are now required in ECUSA and ACC seminaries nationwide, namely, ‘Ecofeminist Theology,’ ‘Deconstructing the Nature/Culture Gap,’ ‘Beyond Orthodoxy,’ ‘Dance of the Woman’s Spirit,’ and ‘Constructions of Homoeroticism.’ A landmark class that has inspired many imitators is still being offered at GTU: ‘Geographies and Thea/ologies of Darkness: An Examination of the History of the Demonization of Darkness.’ Another pioneering class still offered at GTU is ‘Embracing Darkness.’ As the original instructor said, ‘Queering thea/ologies will challenge us to get at the primacy of the body (as the location of the blurring of the public/private boundary) and the centrality of sexualities in our thea/ologizing. It will examine how hetero supremacy, white supremacy, male supremacy, class supremacy, physical/mental supremacy, U.S. supremacy, etc. are interconnected. We will also look at the importance of moving beyond binary constructions of gender in the process of queering thea/ologies.’ (A note for readers who are behind the times: Since ‘theology’ is considered masculine and therefore sexist, ‘thea/ology’ is substituted in order to assert the androgynous nature of God.)

     

    In 2000 the Presidential nominee of the Natural Law Party was John Hagelin, an Episcopalian and an activist in the Transcendental Meditation movement. Since then, this Hindu meditative technique has become normal practice in ECUSA and ACC seminaries and religious orders. Those who dislike TM are free to choose labyrinth walking, I Ching, Tai Chi, the enneagram, Jungian dream analysis, shamanic vision quests, esoteric astrology, and other ways to seek the Divine Within. The Jesus Prayer is discouraged, since it fosters religious chauvinism. In ACC seminaries the Rosary is strictly prohibited, as it is considered incompatible with the Spirit of Vatican II.

     

    Two ECUSA seminaries remain untouched by the New Curriculum — Nashotah House (for Anglo-Catholics) and Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry (for Evangelicals). The authorities in ECUSA have demonstrated impeccable tolerance by continuing to accredit these schools and ensuring that their graduates can get jobs. In turn, these schools can teach as they wish — as long as they refrain from publicly criticizing diocesan and national Church leaders. Parishes can hire graduates of these retrograde schools — as long as parish assessments continue to go to the diocesan and national offices. The survival of these two seminaries has played a vital role in preventing the blacklisting of ECUSA by Third World Anglican primates.

     

    Late News Flash

     

    On Halloween 2015 (last night!) a Midnight Communion/Celebration service was held in the remodeled — and just reopened — National Cathedral in Washington, D.C. for All Peoples’ Day. This service combined a neo-Wiccan Samhain ritual with an Anglican-style ‘Rave Mass.’ Icons of the spirits and the saints, draped in red and black, lined the Cathedral. Male-identified clergy wore black vestments, and female-identified clergy wore red. The service began with a procession of clergy and altar servers down the central aisle of the Cathedral, led by the co-Rectors of the Cathedral — a male-to-female transsexual, and his/her partner, a female-to-male transsexual. In keeping with the Wiccan tradition of ‘sky clad’ rituals, the members of the altar party solemnly disrobed; in single file, they walked the Grand Labyrinth that surrounded the Altar of Unity for All People. The High Priest and High Priestess began the Liturgy of the Word by asking the spirits of the Four Directions and the Five Elements to bless all the participants in the Work of the People. The first lesson, read from the Moon-Altar on the west side of the church, was from the Egyptian Book of the Dead. The second lesson, read from the Sun-Altar on the east side of the church, was from the Tibetan Book of the Dead. The Gospel reading was from the Gospel of Thomas. In lieu of a sermon, the High Priest and the High Priestess performed the Rite of Marriage between the Cosmic Christ and Gaia at the Altar of Unity. Most of those in attendance were enthralled and excited by this latest evidence that the New Spirituality was overcoming all inherited taboos, repressive doctrines, and internalized guilt. Most looked forward with delight to the newest Rite of Communion to be celebrated later in the service.

     

    Three conservative Episcopalians, who attended in order to observe and report on these events, disapproved. But as the Rite of Marriage ended at the high altar, the first observer counseled patience: ‘Don’t give up yet. The Lord wants us to contend for the Faith in this church where he has placed us.’ The second said, ‘Surely the Lambeth Conference will expel ECUSA from the Anglican Communion in 2018, after they hear of this travesty.’ The third observer rolled his eyes and said, ‘One more thing and I’m outta ECUSA!’

     

    Lee Penn, a health-care information systems consultant in San Francisco, is a member of Our Lady of Fatima Byzantine Catholic Church, a parish of the Russian Catholic Church (one of 21 Eastern Catholic Churches in communion with the Holy See). Here is Lee’s site.


    *Lee got part of this prediction right: in 2005 Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger became Pope Benedict XVI.

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